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My perfect summer dress

Jess Cartner-Morley: The Slim Aarons shift

The ideal summer, obviously, is summer as it is in the photography of Slim Aarons. Aarons was the ultimate chronicler of the beautiful people, but what makes his photographs so bewitching is not just that the people are so tanned and gorgeous, or that their houses are so elegant. It’s that everyone looks like they are having a really, really nice time. Perhaps they are walking alongside the swimming pool, carefully balancing a recently refreshed cocktail, as in Poolside Glamour. Maybe they are just sitting down to a long, lazy lunch with friends in the shade, like in Acapulco Lunch. Or they might be reading a book in the garden, or playing backgammon on the beach. These are the days that summer is made of. If you happen to have a Palm Beach mansion, so much the better, but it’s not really the point.

So my perfect summer dress is a Slim Aarons dress. This means a bold, saturated colour, lemon yellow or turquoise or burnt orange. And a simple, uncomplicated silhouette: a 50s sundress, wasp-waisted with a flared skirt; or an early-60s A-line short tunic; or a loose maxi. Some kind of artisanal, earthy element: rope-heeled wedges, or a chic St Tropez shopping basket. This is a dress that you can wear to buy tomatoes in the morning and order lobster for lunch. It doesn’t have to be expensive: I’ve got a red silk Chanel dress that falls into this category (sample sale, before you scratch my eyes out) but I’ve also got a pale lemon cotton one, with white broderie anglaise embroidery and tiny covered buttons, that I bought two summers ago from Marks Spencer. The joy of a dress like this is the day it promises. You can’t bottle summer, but you can wear it.

This season’s version: Diane von Furstenberg Carpreena dress, £381

Kirsty Wark: Childhood memories and splashes of colour

When I was at primary school in the 60s there was a convention that in the summer term, as soon as the sun came out, uniforms could be discarded in favour of summer dresses. I remember that the snow would have barely melted on the ground when I would come downstairs for breakfast in a brightly patterned dirndl, only to be sent back up again to don the boring old white shirt and navy skirt. I never gave up. I think I liked these full skirts because they were so like my mother’s beautiful 50s and 60s dresses; patterned with bright splashes of colour.

I have two favourite summer dresses: the first is a crepe Nicole Miller number patterned with blue artichokes, bought in Chicago 30 years ago. It has seen a lot of active service and I pray it doesn’t fall to pieces. The other, a cotton one by Antonio Maura, is just 10 years old. It’s covered with zingy lime-yellow roses with a long exposed zip at the back, and makes me feel like summer. But best of all is a brightly painted linen skirt that my mother refashioned from a dress in the 50s. It is a wonderful fabric and looks as good as new. I go upstairs and retrieve it from my wardrobe as soon as the snow melts on the ground.

This season’s version: Floral dress, Whistles, £135

Sophie Heawood: The red gingham sundress

I don’t know where it is now – I must have thrown it away when the rip became too big to sew again. A red gingham sundress with little lace straps and hem, like a girl in a storybook might wear. Only I bought it in a vintage shop and wore it throughout my 20s, until I put my foot through the hem one too many times.

I remember wearing it to a party in a back garden in Bethnal Green, where people were drinking vodka in a paddling pool. Somebody saying their band were about to sign a record deal. And they did. I remember going to Paris, getting out of the Eurostar to meet a man who said “Look at you!” Wrapping his arms around the womanchild in the dress that always made me feel like sunshine. He’s gone now, and so is the dress. The band are still hanging in there. I might wear trousers this year.

This season’s version: Red gingham dress, Fossil, £129

Sali Hughes: Cheerful and rebellious canary yellow

I bought a yellow dress last year from Topshop, to wear on stage for an interview with makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury and the wonderful Camila Batmanghelidjh of the charity Kids Company. Camila loves clothes and is always dressed flamboyantly and colourfully and I didn’t want to let the side down or disappear into the scenery. I suppose I was also eager to please someone I admire so greatly and I instinctively felt black or navy wasn’t going to cut it. I’m tiny in frame and as pale as milk so I know bright canary yellow is an unexpected choice, but I absolutely loathe colour rules and never let anything stop me from wearing whatever I fancy. The colour is cheerful and rebellious (like Batmanghelidjh herself), while the A-line tunic shape is very forgiving (it’s most definitely what my friends and I call “an eating dress” – a frock behind which one can easily stow a burger, chips, pudding and a few cocktails without any discomfort). I don’t think I own a dress that receives so many compliments whenever it gets an outing. Everyone asks where I got it and they are usually amazed when I tell them how cheap it was. It still makes me smile, too, whenever I open my wardrobe – partly because it’s a great dress, but also because it reminds me of a very happy evening in the company of a truly wonderful woman.

Whistles yellow dress, £165

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